Read an Excerpt
Officer Off Limits
A Line of Duty Novel
By Tessa Bailey, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Tessa Bailey
All rights reserved.
He's breaking our engagement in a seafood restaurant.
Clinking ice cubes, silverware scraping against china, and soft laughter all faded into a tornado of sound, numbing Story Brooks to her surroundings. She suspected Fisher brought her here specifically, one of San Diego's finest seafood restaurants, to dump her in style, because he suspected she wouldn't make a scene in such a lavish setting. Fisher hated making a scene.
A steakhouse would have been so much more appropriate. More sharp metal objects with which to stab me in the heart.
For once, Story welcomed her rambling inner monologue. It served to block out Fisher's decidedly un welcome words as he spoke to her from across the candlelit table, using sweeping hand gestures to make his point. She should be listening, but she'd pretty much tuned out after hearing the words, I'm calling off the wedding.
Searching for something to focus on, her eyes dropped to his empty plate, finding it a little odd that he'd managed to keep his appetite while cutting her loose. In addition to hating scenes, Fisher adored lobster, probably another reason for the elegant venue.
He's killing two birds with one stone. And you almost married this asshole.
At that point in Story's reverie, everything in her present snapped back into sharp focus. Fiancé breaking engagement. Right.
"I didn't mean for it to happen, Story. We work closely together and things just kind of ... progressed."
"Hold up. What?"
Visibly flustered, Fisher took a sip of water. "This isn't easy for me, you know. Can you please try and tune in?" He slumped back in his chair. "I was explaining to you that Diana and I didn't seek out a relationship with each other, it simply developed into something more over time."
Whoops. Looks like she'd missed out on some important details during her little trip to outer headspace. So he'd met someone else. She registered the information calmly, as if he'd told her they were out of milk. Maybe she was simply in shock. Or dealing with the effects of three glasses of wine and no food in her stomach. She couldn't tell. "Which one is Diana, again?"
He released a long-suffering sigh. "The oncologist." She showed no reaction. "From Boston ...?"
Story tilted her head. "The one with the bob haircut?"
Story recalled meeting her apparent replacement, Diana, at a dinner party a month prior. Had they already been seeing each other? Did she even want to know? Their destination wedding in Maui wouldn't be taking place either way.
The white noise of the dining room combined with the over-the-top nautical decor transported Story to the ocean and the time she almost drowned. Sipping her sparkling water, she recalled the day with perfect clarity.
Ignoring her mother's caution and the signs warning of a dangerous undertow, twelve-year-old Story swam out much too far, only to be pulled under by a massive wave. As her arms and legs pinwheeled in every direction, breath whooshing from her lungs, she could still remember her brain registering the thought, maybe it's better to just die now than have to deal with my mother saying "I told you so." But somehow, she'd finally managed to make it to the surface, sucking in air and blinking saltwater from her eyes.
Then she'd grabbed her board and paddled out even farther.
What happened to that girl? The brave girl who refused to sit still for lectures. Or let people force her into eating seafood. She used to be fearless. With regularity, her grade school teachers used to throw up their hands in resignation, muttering, "She has a mind of her own."
At some point between graduating from college three years earlier and now, she'd lost her pluck. Her moxie. Her chutzpah. She'd met the slightly older, ambitious Fisher as a young postgrad and could admit now that she'd been more than a little dazzled by the attention he paid her — especially after being surrounded for four years by inexperienced college boys.
While trying to fit into his world of sophisticated dinner parties and foreign films, had she let little parts of herself chip away in the process? Obviously. The old Story, the one who'd regarded her near-drowning as an adventure, would not approve of the girl who listened politely while someone made her feel two inches tall.
That Story would kick ass and take names.
The waitress approached then, drawing her attention. "Are you still working on your halibut, miss?"
Looking down at the untouched piece of fish — Fisher knew she didn't like seafood, the bastard — Story shook her head. "No, I'm finished, thank you."
She cleared the plate with efficiency. "Would you like to see our dessert menu?"
"No, thank you," Fisher replied, already reaching for his wallet.
And honestly, denying her a look at the dessert menu was the straw that finally broke the chocoholic's back. Perhaps it made her childish, but Story figured her wasted months of planning a wedding that would no longer take place had at least earned her some damn tiramisu. Call off my wedding, but leave me my desserts.
"Actually," Story interceded with a bright smile, "I'd like a slice of chocolate cake and a bottle of your most expensive champagne, please. To go."
Fisher's valuable surgeon's hand froze in the act of removing his credit card. "Very funny."
She merely raised an eyebrow at the waitress, who shifted rather uncomfortably. "Ma'am, we can't sell you alcohol to leave the premises. It's against the law."
"Really?" She jerked a thumb toward Fisher. "Because my fiancé brought me here tonight to break off our engagement. Two weeks before the wedding."
She nodded primly when the waitress's mouth dropped open, her eyes flashing wide at Fisher. "I'll see what I can do."
Story clapped her hands once. "Excellent."
As the waitress scurried off toward the kitchen, Fisher turned to her. "You're making this harder than it needs to be. I didn't want it to be like this."
With a calm she didn't feel, Story pushed back her chair and stood. "I think I'm going to head home now. Unless you were planning on offering me some kind of severance package ...?"
"I'm sorry," he responded, looking as though he wanted to say more, but ultimately remaining silent.
Deciding then and there that Fisher wasn't worth another moment of her time, Story ignored him. Between his distant attitude the last few months and now his halfhearted apology, she'd had enough of feeling undeserving. Never again. She spotted the waitress exiting the kitchen holding a bottle of champagne. Her posture and expression communicated how indignant she felt on Story's behalf and it made her want to cry for the first time that evening. A fact that definitely needed further investigation, since she hadn't yet shed a single tear over her broken engagement.
Placing the to-go box and a bottle of chilled champagne on the table, the waitress ignored Fisher, addressing only Story. "I'm supposed to tell you that any open containers must remain inside the restaurant. But if you happen to slip out without me noticing, I guess I can't do anything about it, can I?" After casting one final glare at Fisher, she pivoted on a heel and stalked away.
Gotta love female solidarity.
Story aimed the bottle away from her body and twisted the cork, eliciting a loud popping noise and drawing the attention of the surrounding patrons. At least the ones who hadn't already been watching the scene unfold with rabid interest.
With a shrug, she raised the bottle to her lips and took a long, healthy swig. Whispers and uncomfortable laughter filled the room. For the first time in way too long, she couldn't have cared less.
"Story, please stop this," Fisher begged, as he shrank down into his seat.
Holding the bottle by the neck, Story weaved her way through the now-silent restaurant, to-go bag tucked under the opposite arm. To her right, one particular table caught her eye. A man and woman sat shaking their heads.
She gestured with the bottle in their direction. "Oh, what are you looking at? He's leaving me for someone with a bob. A fucking bob!"
Finally outside, her painfully uncomfortable heels clicked along the sidewalk until she reached the town car Fisher had hired to drive them to and from the restaurant. The driver hopped out and opened the door for her, thankfully without acknowledging the bottle she carried. Story dug around in her purse and produced two twenty-dollar bills before rattling off her apartment address.
Leaning back against the leather seat as the town car pulled onto the highway, Story took another deep pull of the cold champagne, then held the bottle against her forehead as she swallowed. She'd have a bitch of a hangover tomorrow, but at least she didn't have to teach a room full of kindergartners in the morning.
Thank God for summer vacation.
She reached into her purse and pulled out her phone with the intention of calling her mother. Instead, the device buzzed in her palm, signaling an incoming call. With a frown, she stared down at the unfamiliar area code and slid her finger across the screen to answer.
"Yes, hi. Is this Ms. Story Brooks?"
She tipped the already half-empty bottle to her lips and drank deeply. "Mmm-hmm."
A pregnant pause. "I'm calling from Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. Your father, Jack Brooks, was admitted this afternoon following a heart attack. You're listed as next of kin on his medical records."
"What?" Story shot straight up in her seat, spilling champagne all over her legs. "He's not ... d-dead, right?"
"No. No, he's in stable condition. I apologize for not stating that up front. We generally contact any next of kin in these situations."
"Oh." Her alcohol-fogged brain struggled to play catch-up. She hadn't seen her father, Jack, in years. After his divorce from her mother when she'd been a mere child, he'd made an attempt to be in her life, but had ultimately led a separate existence in New York for the last decade. At best, she would describe their relationship as cordial, although he still managed to involve himself, forcing his opinion on her whenever he felt it necessary. Jack Brooks was controlling and a pain in the ass. But he was her father. "Does ... does he have anyone there with him?"
"No family, ma'am."
Story thanked the hospital administrator and disconnected the call just as the town car pulled up in front of her apartment building. She slid her clammy fingers around the door handle and addressed the driver through the glass partition.
"Can you wait for me? I'm going to need a ride to the airport."CHAPTER 2
Jack Brooks, legend among hostage negotiators nationwide, was human after all.
As Daniel Chase sat in the hospital waiting room, he tried to wrap his mind around the fact that his larger-than-life, cigar-smoking, no-bullshit- taking mentor currently lay in a hospital bed, attached to a host of beeping machines and wires. He'd never seen Jack looking anything less than robust, but in mere minutes, hospital visiting hours would begin and all that would change. He could easily flash the nurse his badge and get in early, just get it over with, but he was thankful for the extra time to gather his thoughts.
He glanced around at the functionally gray, devoid-of-character walls, knowing Jack was hating every minute of being confined to this place. They'd learned a lot about each other over the last five years, after Jack had plucked Daniel, a newly minted detective, out of a negotiation course provided by the department. When Daniel excelled in the class, surpassing his fellow officers by a wide margin, he'd been taken under Jack's wing to learn the ropes. Since then, he'd witnessed Jack negotiate dozens of hostage situations and resolved quite a few of his own.
Somewhere along the line, his mentor had become his friend, despite the gap in their age. Although if an outsider happened to overhear a typical conversation between them, he might assume they were enemies. Friends didn't come easy to either of them, and it was with a grudging respect that they operated together so well. He still had a lot to learn from Jack.
Daniel wasn't quite ready to acknowledge exactly where an early retirement from Jack would leave him. At thirty-two years of age, he would be the primary hostage negotiator in New York City. His professional attachment to the revered Jack Brooks all but guaranteed it. How an orphan who'd spent his youth as property of the state had managed to make it to this lofty a position, he couldn't begin to figure out.
He pushed to his feet and left the waiting room with the intention of pacing the hallway. Sitting still did nothing to help ease his anxiety. As Daniel passed the front desk, he winked at the pretty dark-haired nurse who'd been smiling at him since he arrived.
"Good afternoon ..." He discreetly checked her name tag. "Helen."
She looked momentarily thrown that he'd called her by name, then looked down at her name tag and giggled. "Oh. Good afternoon."
He lowered his voice to a stage whisper. "You know, I'm thinking about getting really sick just so I can check in here and request you as my nurse." Behind him, Daniel thought he heard a snort, but didn't turn around to investigate its source.
Smiling, Helen shook her head. "It doesn't work that way."
You don't say, he thought sarcastically. Obviously Helen wouldn't offer much in the way of conversation, but he could work around that. There wouldn't be much talking required for what he had in mind. Another empty exchange that would help numb his mind for an hour, but leave him feeling worse once it ended. It was a cycle he'd learned to live with. One he didn't know how to break. He wondered fleetingly if Jack would be offended by Daniel picking up a nurse while his mentor lay incapacitated in a hospital bed. He gave a mental head shake. No, Jack would approve and probably pick up one of his own right after.
Daniel slipped the nurse's phone number into his pocket and headed in the direction of Jack's room. He'd just rounded a corner, his dress shoes squeaking on the polished floor, when he saw her.
Daniel's easy stride came to an abrupt halt. The nurse's name flew right out of his head.
Staring through the glass of the vending machine, an exquisitely beautiful blonde stood looking entirely out of place in her mundane surroundings. Years of training had Daniel registering everything about her appearance in mere seconds. A natural, golden tan starting at her feet and spreading upward until it disappeared under her jean skirt suggested she either lived outside the city or had just returned from vacation.
She'll have tan lines. Daniel nearly groaned out loud at the thought of finding them.
In sandals and a tank top, she was dressed like she'd come straight from the beach, clearly not anticipating the harsh air-conditioning in the hospital. He watched her shiver a little, rubbing her arms to generate heat. The sight of her delicate hands traveling over her mouthwatering skin kicked his heart rate up another notch.
Barely conscious of his feet moving, Daniel started toward her, his sole intention to learn the color of her eyes. Blue, he'd guess, based on the long, straw-colored hair hanging to the middle of her back, curling slightly at the ends. He watched as she blew out a breath, disturbing the thick bangs ending just over her eyes. Her posture hinted at fatigue or grief, he couldn't tell which. Only that he wanted to make it better.
She stared at the contents of the vending machine, chewing her lip in indecision. His teeth sank into his own bottom lip in response, wishing it was hers.
As he got closer, her startled gaze flew up to meet his. Lightning rocketed through his system. Curious blue-green eyes widened on him, flicking away just as quickly. He took a step closer.
Talking to women was like second nature to him, yet he found himself stranded in silence, second-guessing everything that popped into his head. And if he didn't speak soon, his closeness would begin to alarm her. Say something, idiot.
"I can't let you do that," Daniel blurted.
"Can't let me do what, exactly?"
Her voice slid like silk across his skin and it took him a minute to recapture his train of thought. He tilted his head toward the vending machine. "You've got your eye on that healthy cereal bar. It's a bad selection. Pick something else."
She smirked at their side-by-side reflection in the glass. "Elaborate."
"No one buys healthy cereal bars." He tapped his finger against the glass. "That's been there as long as the machine itself."
She peeked up at him, a laugh flirting around the edges of her mouth. "Did you have an alternate suggestion?"
"Of course." Daniel tried not to stare at her lips. "You see, there are three factors one must consider when choosing a snack from a vending machine. Substance, for one. It needs to hold you over until real food is available. Freshness, which your cereal bar is sorely lacking. And finally" — his eyes dropped to her mouth — "taste."
Excerpted from Officer Off Limits by Tessa Bailey, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2013 Tessa Bailey. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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